Zimbabwe comfortably chased down 105 to beat Ireland in the first T20I of the five-match series in Harare.
Though the result was rarely in doubt, it did take the hosts the better part of their 20 overs to reach the total, with captain Chipo Mugeri hitting the winning runs with four balls to spare to complete a match-securing 31 from 29 balls.
She came in in the 10th over after a measured but solid start by opening pair Ashley Ndiraya (32) and Modester Mupachikwa (18) and guided the team towards the finish line with the help of the cool-headed Precious Marange. The latter was clean bowled by 34-year-old left-armer Isobel Joyce – who finished with the remarkable figures of 1/6 off her four overs – with just five required.
Ireland sensed an unlikely victory could be on the cards when Anesu Mushangwe then fell for a three-ball duck to bring 21-year-old Loreen Tshuma to the wicket. But with nine-balls left and only four to get, the turnaround was just out of reach. Finally, with the field up and one run to get Mugeri struck the second ball of the final over from off-spinner Rachel Delaney (0/13 off 3.2) for four to calim victory.
While Ireland had veteran bowler Joyce to thank for keeping the runs down, Zimbabwe had their own in Precious Mbange; the 35-year-old medium-pacer took 2/8 from her four overs as the hosts never let the Irish line-up get away and brought about a middle and lower-order collapse through the resulting pressure.
Only Mushangwe (2/26 from three) took any real punishment, as the Irish openers Mary Waldron (top scorer with 34 from 33) and Una Raymond-Hoey (13 from 18) had some joy early on after being put in at the toss. But only Joyce (17 from 16) thereafter reached double figures, and Ireland fairly limped up to 101/7 from their 20 overs in the end.
Thanks to their miserly bowling, they made a game of it, but ultimately that total just wasn’t enough.
The second WT20I takes place in Harare on Saturday.